Anglers Advised to Avoid Endangered Coho Salmon
Spurred on by recent rains, endangered coho salmon are returning to the Russian River to spawn, the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) reports.
In an effort to protect and ensure the safety of the returning coho, conservation groups and fishery managers are conducting an educational campaign to ensure that steelhead anglers can differentiate between a coho and a steelhead trout.
“Because coho salmon can be easily mistaken for steelhead by a novice or uninformed angler, it’s imperative that we make every effort to educate anglers about the differences,” said Brett Wilson, Senior Hatchery Supervisor for DFG’s Bay Delta Region “Angler cooperation is vital to our efforts to replenish this diminishing species, which was once commonly found in these waters.”
Hatchery-reared steelhead trout and coho salmon are easily mistaken for each other because they are similar in size and both have a clipped adipose fin. Last year an endangered coho salmon was entered in a local fishing contest by an angler who mistakenly thought it was a large steelhead.
Kent MacIntosh, Northern California President of Trout Unlimited, said that his organization will be placing identification signs showing the differences between coho and steelhead at popular fishing areas along the Russian River. On weekends, Trout Unlimited personnel, DFG game wardens and Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) biologists will make personal contact with anglers fishing in the river, showing them pictures and ensuring that they can accurately identify each species.
The Russian River coho salmon population faced near-extinction in 2000.
In an effort to re-establish the listed coho species to the Russian River Watershed, the Russian River Coho Salmon Captive Broodstock Program was launched in 2001. The program, which oversees the spawning of captive-reared wild coho broodstock, produced 92,000 fingerling coho salmon that were returned to tributaries of the Russian River last year.
Most of the coho salmon returning to spawn this winter were hand-raised in the Broodstock Program. They were released in small tributaries of the Russian River in 2007 and spent two years in the ocean before returning as adults to spawn.
SCWA has a video counting station at Mirabel Dam that provides an account of most fish returning to the upper reaches of the Russian River. Most of the coho reared at Warm Springs Hatchery return to spawn in tributaries located below the video station and thus are not counted by the video station. However, four coho salmon have been recorded passing over the dam and a fifth coho was recently found dead on the river bank.
In addition to the five coho, 1,770 Chinook salmon and 30 steelhead have been recorded by the video station since October. Weekly counts and video of salmon and steelhead are provided online at http://www.scwa.ca.gov/chinook/.